In August 2012, six cartoonists—Jeff Bacon (Military Times/Broadside/Greenside), Tom Richmond (MAD magazine), Jeff Keane (The Family Circus), Dave Coverly (Speed Bump), Sam Viviano (MAD magazine) and I (Rick from Baby Blues)—traveled out to the Persian Gulf on a USO tour to draw for the troops. This time, mainly for the Navy.
Most of our time was spent among the 5,000+ sailors, Marines and flight squadrons on the USS Enterprise (CVN-65), the oldest ship serving real duty in the Navy. It was on its last deployment. The ship was over fifty years old, the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and the longest. Stood on its end, it would be a few feet shy of the John Hancock Center in Chicago.
So what are the anniversaries?
The first was a few days ago, November 25. On that date in 1961, the USS Enterprise was commissioned. And on today’s date, a year ago, the USS Enterprise was taken out of service after nearly fifty-one years. There was a lot of affection for the old ship among its crew members—actually, more of a love-hate relationship for those who had to maintain it. Sometimes it took some extreme ingenuity and resourcefulness to keep a ship that old in running order.
I experienced what was referred to as an “Enterprise shower.” It was late one night. A few seconds after stepping into the shower, all the water shut off. I waited for a while, and the water didn’t come back on. I grabbed my shower things and started back to my cabin. On the way, I ran into a crew member who directed me to another set of showers, maybe they’d work. I got into that one, and it worked.
For a about two seconds.
Another person was in the next stall, and we stood there for a minute in awkward silence waiting for the water to come back on. It didn’t. My shower neighbor and I struck up a conversation. He was a pilot and had experienced the “Enterprise shower” before and suggested we wait it out. Naked, and mostly dry, we talked through the wall dividing us. He asked about being a cartoonist, I asked about being a pilot. Several minutes later, the water came back and we rapidly completed our showers before the next outage could leave us stranded soapy.
For a few days my cartooning compadres and I drew for at least three sessions a day for the crew. In between, we got tours, watched operations, planes launching and landing on the deck, resupplying at sea (one of the most amazing feats of logistics you could ever see), various other things I can’t even tell you about because they’re classified.
We flew from the horrid heat and humidity of the Persian Gulf and landed on the Enterprise—an “arrested” landing, meaning the plane lands on the deck and is stopped by a hook on the plane that catches a large cable stretched across the deck. A hundred and some miles per hour to zero in about a second.
We landed on the Enterprise and headed out to the Arabian Sea, which gave us respite with slightly less heat and humidity.
We walked the ship many times over through the course of our time there, sometimes walking up or down as much as a dozen decks at a time and nearly the entire length of the ship. We saw everything from the catapults that launched the planes from the deck to the propeller screws that pushed it through the ocean.
Everything on The Big E is huge. Just ask Tom Richmond, our resident cartoonist/bodybuilder, seen here trying to lift one of the links of the anchor chain.
One of the most poignant sights, though, was quite small in comparison. It was the ship’s bell (seen here with the lovely Sam Viviano). Inside the bell are etched the names of children baptized in the ship’s bell over its entire life. The names are of children born to crew members who spend months at a time away from their families in remote—and often dangerous—parts of the world.
There’s hardly a better symbol of why we go on these USO tours than that ship’s bell—to bring a little bit of home out to those separated from their loved ones halfway across the world, and to thank them for that.
Happy Anniversary to the Big E and everyone who served aboard her. You served us well. Thank you.